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Reignbow Reflections: This is starting to get fun

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It was an attacking onslaught by Seattle Reign. The defense looked great as well.

Photo by MikeRussellFoto

Last Saturday sure was fun for Seattle Reign FC fans. In arguably the team’s most complete performance to date, Seattle dismantled Sky Blue FC 4-1 at home. The team continues to improve each match and overcame a tough early schedule that put them on the road for four of the squad’s first five matches. It’s exciting to imagine what this squad’s ceiling might be — it certainly feels limitless at the moment.

With back-to-back home games, Seattle now has an opportunity to create some real rhythm and momentum heading into the summer — and possibly close some ground on first-place North Carolina, who sit seven points ahead of Seattle, albeit with two more matches played.

As Reign FC prepares to host the Chicago Red Stars this weekend, here are a few interesting observations from their home match last Saturday.

Jodie Taylor’s Movement

Jodie Taylor tallied her third goal of the season, finishing off a lovely Steph Catley cross. She also had two other strong opportunities, including this one that came seconds before the first half concluded. How did that not go in!?

It wasn’t just Taylor’s goal or this chance that was impressive — it was her ability to constantly put herself in dangerous positions to begin with.

Seattle has boasted plenty of strong attacking talents in the Number 9 role in recent years, whether it was Merritt Mathias, Bev Yanez, or Manon Melis. Each brought something slightly different to the position, but the team hasn’t really had a player like Taylor before. Not only does she bring pace, Taylor masterfully pulls opponents out of position with her runs and is always looking to sneak in behind defenders to get through on goal. Case in point: this well-timed run that split two defenders and resulted in a shot that was cleared out for a throw-in — a throw-in that directly led to Taylor’s goal just seconds later.

Taylor’s smart movement has produced numerous scoring chances so far this season. If she finishes these opportunities more frequently, she could certainly reach double-digit goal totals. But don’t take my word for it when it comes to Taylor. Listen to the wise words of Reign Academy coach Matt Dorman.

Allie Long, Centerback? Sometimes!

Against Sky Blue, Reign FC were clearly focused on building chances down the wings. Not only were Naho Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe heavily involved, but outside backs Steph Catley and Theresa Nielsen constantly pushed up the flanks. It was the most aggressive the outside backs have been getting forward all season.

It certainly paid off, with Catley earning the first assist of the night and both defenders creating numerous chances.

This tactical focus also produced another noticeable shift. While Allie Long occasionally drops back to provide cover along the backline, Saturday’s match marked the first time she did this consistently throughout the game. Whenever Nielsen or Catley pushed up, Long dropped into the middle while center backs Megan Oyster and Kristen McNabb pulled wider — essentially creating a three-back system when Seattle attacked.

It worked effectively against Sky Blue, and Long was, once again, incredibly efficient in her defensive actions. Will it work against more dangerous attacks? Only time will tell, but a constant theme so far this season is the squad’s ability to adjust tactics to take advantage of its opponent. This formation shift is another example of that flexibility.

Welcome Back, Pinoe.

Megan Rapinoe has been out for nearly a month recovering from a hamstring strain. Saturday marked her return, and it’s like she never missed a beat. Rapinoe stepped back onto the pitch with the same energy and form she showed at the start of the season — putting two beautiful balls in the back of the net and earning herself Player of Week honors for the second time this year.

Pinoe is one of the best players in the world right now. Period. Keeping her healthy is going to be crucial for Seattle’s long-term push for the playoffs. Plus, we’d love to see a few more random goal celebrations.

The Challenge of Two Starting-Quality Goalkeepers

Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams earned her first start of the year after missing most of April due to World Cup qualifiers. While she didn’t have as much to do as Michelle Betos did against Portland, Williams showed why she’s one of the best in the world — stopping dangerous shots when called upon.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the match that he feels “very fortunate to have two great goalkeepers on the team,” while also noting that he plans to rotate both based on tactical considerations. “It will be purely a tactical decision because right now I cannot determine one or the other to be the starter or backup goalkeeper.”

Against Sky Blue, my guess is that Andonovski was worried about some of the pace up top and the pressure their frontline could put on a goalkeeper. Williams is more comfortable on the ball than Betos, and she was calm and strong in distribution throughout the match.

The competition between Betos and Williams highlights a unique challenge Reign FC has this year — which also happens to be a huge opportunity. This team is loaded with talent. Players who would be starters on any other team may be on the bench on any given week. That’s something that is going to benefit Seattle come September, when teams are getting tired and fighting for a playoff spot.